Considering the ‘comic side plot’ used to be such an integral part of old Hindi cinema—and that the presence of a Johnny Walker, a Rajendranath, or a Mehmood almost invariably meant that there would be not just laughs but also a secondary (light-hearted and often outright comic) romance, and at least one song picturized on the comedian in question. Oddly enough, then, there aren’t those many songs that I find outright funny. Even an iconic ‘comic’ song (or what most people seem to refer to as a comic song—Sar jo tera chakraaye)—is actually more philosophical than comic.
So I set out to compile a list of ten songs that are actually funny. Funny because of the lyrics, the rendition, the picturization—whatever (in some stellar instances, all of the above). These may not be songs that make me laugh out loud (I am not a guffawer, anyway), but they are songs that always make me smile rather more widely than usual. As always, these are all from pre-1970s films (except one) that I’ve seen, and they’re in no particular order. Just songs that I find funny. And—I hasten to add—which are intentionally funny.
One would’ve thought a blog dedicated largely to old Hindi cinema would milk Valentine’s Day for all it’s worth; after all, the number of old Hindi films that didn’t feature a romance of some sort, of some duration, can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. True, the romance may end in tragedy; it may come up against one obstacle or the other; there may be misunderstandings galore—but romance and Hindi cinema did go hand in hand (still do, to a large extent). So a Valentine’s Day-themed post is pretty much de rigueur.
This year, after having dilly-dallied and wondered whether I should try a ‘romantic songs’ list, I decided I should. And, oddly enough, all the romantic songs that kept occurring to me—the ones which immediately popped into my head and kept playing—were of Shammi Kapoor lip-synching to Rafi. Too easy. So I decided to go a different route: ten romantic duets (yes, there’s still a good bit of Shammi Kapoor here, but not completely).
Or, to put that better: Hindi film songs that begin with the word “Aaja”.
Let me give the background for this. My daughter, ever since she was a baby, has always had an ear for music. All you had to do was turn on the music (or start singing) and she’d start wiggling her shoulders. When she began walking, the dancing became rather more vigorous—and the first song she totally fell in love with was Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera. The very first time she heard it (and she hadn’t even started talking coherently yet), she joined in at the end: “Aaja, aaja!” After that, every time she’d do a little wriggle and say “Aaja, aaja!” we knew she wanted to listen to some dance music.
So, Aaja. Literally, ‘Come!’ Though I’ve always puzzled over why aaja—which combines aa and jaa, and should create a paradox—and not simply aa? Does the imperativeness, the urgency (which is invariably a part of Hindi love songs that use aaja in the lyrics) come through more when the word is aaja and not aa?
I spent part of last week reading fellow blogger Todd Stadtman’s book, Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema (more on that, along with a link to my review of it, at the end of this post). Todd’s book discusses, in affectionate detail, all the iconic action films—spy thrillers included—of the 70s. In a fit of enthusiasm, brought on by Todd’s book, I told my husband, “I want to see Gunmaster G-9”. To which he replied, “I didn’t like that. What I really liked was Aankhen. That was fun.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
Most people tend to associate Dilip Kumar only with sombre, melancholy roles: whether it’s Devdas or Aadmi, Andaaz or Deedaar, Dilip Kumar seems to have been the obvious choice to play the tormented protagonist (hardly a hero in some roles). While his acting as the drunk, or the self-pitying cripple, or the doomed lover—or, actually, just about any other character—was faultless, Dilip Kumar was also splendid as the debonair and dashing hero. Or the clown. Or the flawed, but still attractive lover…
Poor Biswajeet must have gotten thoroughly sick of romancing spooky women in the ‘60s. True, in this one, the spookiness is rather more pronounced (Waheeda Rehman was pretty sunny and un-mysterious in Bees Saal Baad; everything else seemed steeped in mystery). But there is the inexplicability of everything around, dozens of very loud and pointed hints of someone haunting an area, and a song that’s sung again and again like a broken record.
I spent a bit of last Sunday at Delhi’s Okhla Barrage Bird Sanctuary. The barrage on the Yamuna hosts a vast number of migratory birds through the winter. Most of them are gone by this time of the year, but there’s plenty of bird life still to be seen:
My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.
A Johnny Walker film, but one that’s known for a lot else besides.
I always associate Bimal Roy with the Do Bigha Zameen or Parakh sort of film: deeply rooted in reality, both harshly real and heart-warmingly real. Stories about people like us, people with problems and joys like ours. His films are socially relevant ones that discuss issues like untouchability and corruption, poverty, alcoholism and the plight of those who aren’t economically or socially powerful enough to stand up for themselves.
Madhumati is the glaring exception, the extremely surprising entry in Bimal Roy’s filmography: a film that’s chockfull of everything one doesn’t expect of Bimal Roy. Reincarnation, spooks, multiple roles, atmospheric storms: one could almost think Ramsay Brothers. Thankfully, no; because Madhumati, though in a completely different genre than Bimal Roy classics like Sujata, Bandini, Do Bigha Zameen or Devdas, still bears the mark of a master craftsman. And it’s good entertainment value.